International Day of Women and Girls in Science – the team behind Spicy Tamarind

International Day of Women and Girls in Science – the team behind Spicy Tamarind

9 Feb 2024
Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind

This Sunday marks International Day of Women & Girls in Science, an annual event where societies across the globe promote equal access and participation in science for women and girls.

At Diageo, we are fully committed to championing female representation within our business, and believe that our industry should do more to attract women in areas where historically they have been under-represented.

It’s something we’re acting on. In Europe, 72% of graduates in our Supply Chain & Procurement function are female, and last year we also launched our first apprenticeship accelerator programme specifically for digital roles in our GB business, with 83% of job offers going to women.

Women play a critical role in shaping the success of Diageo, and are an integral part of our global team of innovators who push the boundaries to create new products, tastes, and experiences that existing and new consumers will love.

Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind

Last month, Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind with its unique hint of tamarind and chili hit the shelves of Great Britain and Ireland. It marks the latest new market for this revolutionary product that adds spice to consumers making cocktails or drinking neat, having initially just launched in Mexico in 2016.

The product, which offers consumers something exciting when making cocktails or drinking neat, has exploded in popularity after launching in Mexico back in 2015. that was intended to add ‘spice’ to Mexico’s vodka category, would turn into a revolutionary product that brings the best of its local culture to global audiences.

Many didn’t expect such a regional innovation to gain such global popularity, so we spoke to Viviane Bernui, Innovation GM – LAC, and Olivia McNeal, VP Innovation R&D Americas, about the creation of the liquid, why it has proven so popular, and what makes working in innovation so special to them.

Olivia Mcneal Min

Olivia McNeal, VP Innovation R&D Americas

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Why was Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind launched?

VivianneIn 2015, vodka as a category faced a sort of irrelevance with consumers in Mexico, so we knocked our heads together to come up with a way of revamping the brand locally. We initially thought of introducing three new products, however once we came up with the idea of Spicy Tamarind we thought it was so bold, so innovative, that we decided to go all in on it. We knew it would go on to be a winner as we positioned it in a similar space to tequila, whilst prompting a strong sense of nostalgia as tamarind is a popular flavour associated with candy. It took a bit of time for it to settle in Mexico, as it required a change in how consumers behaved with vodka, however it has become a drink that locals now enjoy ‘neat and cold’.

What was special about Spicy Tamarind from an R&D perspective?

Olivia - We started by doing a broad landscaping of all flavors that would be authentic to Mexico. We wanted to create a flavor profile that was highly differentiated, distinct, memorable, even nostalgic, while having relatively broad appeal. What was so special about working with Tamarind was that it is such a difficult flavour to describe; it is a beautiful combination of caramel sweet-savory; dried fruit-sour citrus; and layered complexity.  Inspired by the culinary uses of tamarind around the world, especially in Mexico where tamarind and chili are often combined in confections, we kicked the spice up a notch and Spicy Tamarind was born!  I must also give credit to Megan Damen and Ana Malo, who were so influential in the development of this brilliant liquid.

Were you surprised to see Spicy Tamarind’s popularity expand beyond Mexico?  

Olivia - I knew there would be an opportunity for Tamarind in the USA, and based on our knowledge of Tamarind originating in Africa and its broad global use in the culinary world, we had hopes for the Rest of World too. The Innovation team pushed hard for a test market in the USA to see how it would perform both with Mexican-American consumers and the general population, with the colourful pack design with its full sleeve dress being a key driver of success.  A lot of print technical expertise went into the design, with so many beautiful pictorial references to Mexican culture and Dia de Muertos, and Spicy Tamarind’s nod to Mexican culture is such an important reason for its appeal, with it becoming increasingly influential with global audiences.

What about R&D excites you the most?

Vivianne - I love the space of creating things based on consumer insights, however what excites me the most is working together as a team with diverse mindsets and experiences, whilst ensuring the right levels of execution with a prototyping mindset. Our team in Latin America has a mix of backgrounds and personalities that are essential to creating vibrant and soulful products for a global audience. I love being a team player, but when it comes to playing on a trend with a new product you need to be resilient and often quite strong-minded, always putting consumers at the heart of every decision. Having this balance is so important, and something I enjoy bringing to work every day.

OliviaI love how we conceptually and physically craft new products, and that we make decisions that determine what the consumer experiences. Our team strives to bring magic to everything we do – imagining the future and taking scientific bets on where to spend our time. The most exciting part of being in R&D is that there is no end to creation; we are constantly pushing ourselves to do better work, to run experiments that work and that fail, to delight the consumer with something they didn’t know could be done, and to make ideas into something real.

Best advice for women & girls wanting to get into STEM roles?

Olivia - Think of a time when you created something – cooking, planting, building a toy or furniture, creating a sculpture, taking something apart and fixing it ... when you were done – how did that make you feel?  That is STEM.  You don’t have to be a genius, or good at all four of the individual disciplines – you must be curious and tenacious; you must be willing to fail and learn, you have to be committed to seeking solutions, and you will work hard.  It is so rewarding to create what is new and to use the principles of Science and Math to delight yourself and others and make the world better.

Seeing the success of Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind, we also caught up with Stephanie Jacoby, SVP Global Smirnoff on what she thought about the popularity of the product going beyond Mexico..

"When we created Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind, it was originally with the Mexican consumer in mind and so the product was born of a passion to celebrate Mexico’s vibrant culture in particular.  We were really focused on developing a flavour that resonated authentically with that market, whilst still bringing something new and unique to the table, and it just so happens it was that delicious that the rest of the world seems to love it too!

"In some ways I’m not surprised that the appeal has radiated out of Mexico and into other cultures. Although our initial intent was to create a new and exciting vodka for a specific market, once we tasted the final product I think we all knew that this was going to be something much bigger. The consumer response to the product is reflective of the wider consumer interest in Mexican food and beverage culture which seems to have been increasing at pace over the past five years or so. We are thrilled to have moved into the next phase of our global expansion through our recent launch of the product into Europe – cheers to that!